New District 70 superintendent looks to make best of good situation
NAME: Phil Collins
BEST KNOWN AS: Park View Elementary School District 70’s new superintendent
TOWN: Morton Grove
Updated: August 20, 2012 6:24AM
MORTON GROVE — Phil Collins was still busy organizing his office this week, getting used to his new digs at Park View School.
He had a few special items out already, including his White Sox tissue box, a jar of candy on his desk and a bowl with more candy near the door to his office.
Clearly, this is a man who likes kids ... or candy.
Collins started his new post as superintendent of Park View Elementary School District 70 on July 2, replacing Gary Zabilka who retired after nine years in the job.
“I’m excited to be here,” Collins said. “I’m getting an idea of where everything is, what we’ve got going on, what we’re looking at. So far so good.”
Collins comes to District 70 with 25 years of educational experience, the last as assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and assessment in Glenview Elementary District 34. He held that position for nine years.
Collins began his career as a mathematics teacher and scientific-literacy coordinator. He served as the principal at Rockford Science and Technology Academy, a magnet school in Rockford.
That was followed by a stint as assistant principal and director of technology at Carl Sandburg Middle School in Mundelein. He then held the post of principal at Westgate Elementary School in Arlington Heights, where he lives.
Collins holds his Bachelor of Arts in Statistics from Saint Mary’s College in Winona, Minn. He earned his Master of Science in Education and his Doctorate in Education from Northern Illinois University.
Collins said he was looking for a job as a superintendent when the post in District 70 opened up.
“I’d been lolling at the potential of moving into superintendency for a couple of years, but I’ve been very selective about where I’ve applied,” he said. “I was somewhat familiar with the district (70). The more I looked into it the more I was interested and intrigued.”
One thing that struck a positive chord with Collins is that Zabilka had served as superintendent for nine years. That indicated it was not a district with significant problems or conflicts.
“Early on I could tell there were some good things going on,” Collins said.
Collins said he is taking over at a time when District 70 is in good shape, both financially and in terms of the quality of the educational program.
The district has a balanced budget, as well as a healthy reserve fund. Also, student test scores in the district have improved during the past few years.
“The district’s in good shape. Things are going well,” he said.
Collins said the small size of the district, with all nine grades in one building, also appealed to him.
“This is a chance to get to know the staff, to get to know the kids, to get to know the parents, to get to know the community,” he said. “That for me is exciting.
“There’s definite recognition we’re going to be together for nine years. Let’s find ways to work together.”
At the same time, Collins said, there are “challenges” about working in a small district.
As an example, he said, the amount of staff is limited for such things as working on planning committees.
“There’s only so much staff to go around, but that closeness and that family feel are real advantages,” Collins added. “I’m excited about that.”
Initially, Collins said, his goal is to learn more about the district, as well as get to know the staff and community. He has started reaching out to the Morton Grove Park District and other groups and organizations in Morton Grove, and plans to continue that.
“My main focus early on is building relationships, getting to know the staff, the support staff, the community, leaders in the area,” Collins said.
Even though he has only been in District 70 a short time, Collins studied the district before he applied. While there may be some tweaking needed, he said, the district for the most part is working well.
“Major drastic overhaul isn’t needed here,” he said. “We’ll look at what we can do better and what we can improve upon. But a lot of it for me initially is going to be about building relationships.”
Collins brings not only his experience in developing curriculum and programs, but a background in finance also.
That’s significant because the district does not have a business manger. Instead the superintendent develops the budget and handles other financial matters.
“I’ve had experience in a number of different systems and districts of varying sizes,” he said. “I think I bring a number of different perspectives to the table.”
In his research before taking the job and in the short time he has been in District 70, Collins said he has been impressed by both the district and the community.
“I think there are great people here who care deeply about what they’re doing and care about the kids. That’s something I want to maintain,” he said. “It’s a great community. We have a great staff here. That’s a strong base to build from.”
He added: “I’m excited to be here and be part of the system and part of Morton Grove. It’s a phenomenal community.”